Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reflection of Class Observation

I think it is a pity if my reflection is not read by others, so I would like to share it here.

Starts from here...

Team Groups

The students are grouped into teams to accomplish final project and works during the class. A team usually consists of four team members. The members in each group seat face-to-face beside a table during the class. Once Dr. Imbrie gives students some problems to solve, the students in a group work as a team to finish the work. They also need to work after class to finish the final project.

A very interesting thing I observed in the class is that if a group has female students, there are always two. There are about 3 times more male students than female students in the classroom. So if the students are randomly distributed, a female student is very likely to be with three male students in a group. However, the female students in the class are never left alone with other three male students. I was wondering if the students chose to group themselves like this. It is possible that the female students are not confident dealing with the situation that they are the minority in the groups, so they chose to stay with other female students. However, I do not believe that all the female students did this. What will happen if a female student works with three male students in a group? Will the male students welcome her or exclude her? Will they get along very well? ...

So after the class, I asked a TA how the groups formed. The students were grouped by TAs according to their former experience, gender, and race. The rule is that they never leave minorities alone in their groups, so they paired female students together. This is very interesting. The TAs grouped the students like this to protect the female students. However, are they actually protecting these female students? These young female engineers will eventually enter the society without protections to minorities. However, if they do not protect these young female engineers at the beginning, are we going to lose more of them?

The Final Project

The final project of the class is to make a robot. To fulfill the assignment, the students not only need to build the bodies of the robots but also need to do programming to realize functions, such as lifting, walking. They can select the functions they want to realize. The assignment was posted on the second week of this semester and will due at the end of this semester. During this class, the groups were asked to present their posters about their plans and progresses. The students were also asked to comment on other groups’ presentations.

I think this assignment is very challenging for these first-year engineers. Before this class, they do not have the chance to learn basic ideas of mechanical engineering, programming, or electrical engineering. They have to find the answers during the process. They may need to try a lot of ideas, but only a small portion of the ideas will work. They also need to learn how to plan their time, how to make their criteria, how to work as a team, how to delegate the works to the members, how to discuss to make a decision, how to present their work, etc. Actually, this is what real engineers do for their projects. Although compare to complex industrial or academic engineering projects the assignment of the class is just a piece of cake, the students can experience everything an experienced engineer deal with. I think the class really help the students to start early as an engineer.

This design assignment has advantages compared with traditional right-wrong assignment. This kind of assignment can better prepare students to solve everyday problem in engineering (Jonassen, 2007). The students will learn to find standards by themselves and learn to collaborate with other team members. Also, since the students need to engage with and contribute to the teams, they are more likely to get interested in engineering and to stay. Finally, this assignment may help the students find their interest and pick up their future majors. As mentioned before, the students will need to learn some knowledge of mechanical engineering, programming, and electrical engineering. During the process, the students may find their interest in one of the majors, so that they want to continue their study in that major.
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